Essentials: Hive by U-he
U-he has released a new instrument with 2700 presets. All you need to do is to combine those presets with your imagination. It will be the perfect combination.
by Alex Arsov, September 2015
First of all, I’m not a synth expert. I’m a user with average sound programming skills, equipped with a fairly solid knowledge of the basic elements most virtual instruments are made of. I also know how to use and abuse all those controllers and parameters to achieve a satisfying end result – knowledge that I’ve picked over the years, knowledge that, actually, I’m not keen to use. I’d rather spend time browsing through presets than building something from scratch. If an instrument preset browser is well-organized and structured, then getting a good result might just take a minute or two. After all, I’m a producer, someone who is quite good at arranging and composing, so why should I be a better patch maker than someone who is a real expert in that field? As you may remember from our first Essentials article, this series is about “set it and forget it” tools which are made with just one purpose: to let us do what we are good at – making music and not spending our time doing other things that aren’t directly connected with our goal.
Presets For Everyone
Hive has everything – after all, it is a U-he product, a synth from the company that has made some of the best known virtual instruments on the market. But let’s start our story with some facts. It has 2,700 presets. The second advantage is the sound. As you know, every virtual instrument sounds a bit unique. It’s not just a matter of preset programming, but it’s also how the filters, oscillators, effects and other elements sound. There are a few “essential” synths on the market, but some of them don’t have such a versatile set of presets, and others don’t have the pleasing sound that Hive has. There is one well-known instrument that does have the sound, and a versatile set of presets, but it’s blessed with a dongle. I’m using a laptop for my music and I’m not so keen on carrying a set of dongles around with me, constantly worrying if something has happened to them. So, Hive has it all, except the dongle – meaning that it has absolutely everything.
The preset browser is not hard to find, as the button for opening the Browser window is placed in the control bar at the top, slightly to the right, just near the central data display that shows the current preset name. The browser window is populated with all the standard preset categories, the only unusual set of categories being the one labelled “Loops,” where we find various sequenced, gated and arpeggiated sounds. While the “Untuned Loops” directory mostly contains heavily effected percussive loops or looped melodies combined with some percussive elements, it sounds better than it looks. The “Tuned Loops” and “Melodic Loops” directories offer a ton of very good sounding looped combinations, where most arpeggiated or gated sounds are combined with the step sequencer. The preset sounds go beyond the standard set of Arpeggiated or just Sequenced sets of sounds that some of the competitors offer (also way beyond the sounds of that well-known dongled beast). The polished, rich character of those sequences reminds me of the golden era of the eighties, as most of the sounds have that “Spandau Ballet” silkiness where even plucked sounds have a pleasant, full and rounded character. Adding such sound in current pop production could be a total winner. Don’t get me wrong, Hive is absolutely an up-to-date sounding synth. It simply brings the best sounds from the past directly into the future.
The main reason for that unique character, along with a great set of effects and good sounding filters, at least in my opinion, comes from the fact that the U-he team was always a bit “modulation matrix” obsessed, trying to connect and wire up everything that sticks above 0 dB. So, the Hive U-he Mad Matrix team attacked the Arpeggiator, connecting it up with the step sequencer, and as bonus added an option to program the step sequencer with the arpeggiator. You can play a chord through the arpeggiator, recording the output directly to the step sequencer. Anyway, all presets that use the step sequencer in combination with the arpeggiator sounds very unique, but still very melodic. Actually, it’s really hard to find a preset inside the “Loops” directories that doesn’t use a combination of those two elements. Of course, disabling arpeggiator or step sequencer is just one click away – basically most of the functions on Hive are just a click away and it is really very easy to manipulate any selected sound. The whole Hive structure is extremely user-friendly, and even if you are a synth programming idiot it wouldn’t be too hard to change a few basic parameters. Arpeggiator, step sequencer and effects sections are placed in a big central hexagonal window. If you press the Effect button at the top of that hexagonal window, you get a set of seven effects – a fairly standard selection but with the unusual addition of a Compressor. All effects have more or less all the controllers you’ll need to tweak your sound. After all, the quality of the effects is usually more important than a set of additional controllers, and after all, U-he is not a newcomer to the effect programming field.
Oscillator 1 along with mirrored Oscillator 2 on the opposite side of main graphical interface come with all standard waves, octave, semitone, phase, detune, wide and similar trumpery, but more interesting is the additional sub-oscillator with a full set of waves that can be added to every oscillator. This can drastically change the character of the sound. Usually I always have problems figuring out my way with all those sound building elements, but somehow I didn’t have any problems doing that on Hive. Most programmers think they deserve a Nobel Prize for their programming work, but in this case, the graphical designer deserves it. Hive is a perfect combination of implemented elements combined with a very cleanly designed graphical interface. While we are still on Oscillators, we should not overlook the Normal, Dirty and Clean buttons positioned under the main hexagonal window between the Oscillators. These three buttons affect Oscillators and Filters, giving them additional character by affecting detune, envelope, attack, oversampling value and few other parameters, depending on the chosen preset.
All Oscillators and Filters have a small Solo button, so you can hear what and how much you are affecting a sound in isolation. On the left, inside the Filter window, you can see a highlighted box with filter input selectors, where you select which Oscillator or even Sub-oscillator this filter should control, so you can actually control all Oscillators with just one Filter, which is a handy solution for achieving quite drastic results with just one move. Also, by playing with filter controllers in combination with those three Normal, Dirty and Clean buttons you easily get an impression of how those three functions can make a difference. Filter 1 could be linked with Filter 2. Along with the usual set of controllers such as filter types, resonance and similar, we also find some not so common options to control cutoff frequency for a selected LFO or MOD envelope or even controlling cutoff with MIDI notes through the Keytrack function. I think they lost me here, but all the other things are quite logical and as far as I can see – Hive proves to be one of the most intuitive and user-friendly instruments for tweaking and controlling until now (that’s also one of the reasons why it ends up in the Essentials column and not as a regular review).
At the bottom of the graphical interface is an LFO, Amp and Modulation section, with nice number of additional options, my favourite being the “Saw Up”, “Saw Down” and “Random Glide” wave shapes inside the LFO section as those can really make a difference, pushing the sound to a whole new level. A row below the “LFO-Amp-Mod” section we see a small window on a left with a Glide, Vibrato, Pitch-band section, along with a switchable row on the right side where we can choose between two racks of modulation matrix windows or virtual keyboards. The Modulation matrix is quite flexible, but the truth is that those large number of very versatile presets will make you so happy that Modulation Matrix will remain as something that is just a nice-to-have (there are always maniacs that want more), but you will hopefully never use it (come on, you have 2,700 presets after all).
So, Why Essentials?
Hive is a tweaking monster, but no matter how deep you can go with its editing functions or even building sounds from scratch, it is actually one of the most “set it and forget it” additions to our virtual universe. The generally pleasant, well-defined sound character with all that sub-harmonic richness, and with a really impressive, versatile and well-organised preset library that offers sounds for every occasion – with great editing (or, in our case, tweaking) capabilities – offer more than you might otherwise expect.
So, all you need to do is to open a new track, add Hive (which is, by the way, extremely CPU friendly), choose a preset and do what you know best – produce music. Repeat this procedure as often as possible. Hive is one of those rare virtual instruments that sounds so versatile nobody will notice that you made the whole song with just one synthesizer. Download demo, enjoy.
$149 USD. It has it all.